Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman

A couple of weeks from now, saxophonist Sonny Rollins will release his new album, Road Shows Vol. 2, which includes a widely publicized meeting with Ornette Coleman recorded at Rollins's eightieth birthday concert at The Beacon Theatre last year.  You can preview the entire album on NPR's website here.  And here's the promotional video:

Rollins's and Coleman's twenty-minute rendition of "Sonnymoon for Two" was heralded as the only documented meeting of arguably the two most influential living jazz saxophonists.  It's disappointing.  For the first four minutes or so, Rollins plays a series of short motivic fragments with lots of pregnant pauses, evidently trying to coax some interaction out of drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Christian McBride.  He then announces the un-named guest artist, who doesn't arrive on cue.  So Rollins plays another solo, but it sounds like he's basically killing time with some very simple half-hearted riffs, wondering why Coleman hasn't materialized.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Monday, August 29, 2011

Conyers and Copyright...

Congressman John Conyers wants to revise the 1976 copyright act to clarify whether recording artists can reclaim the rights to their songs from record companies.  Conyers's record on intellectual property issues doesn't inspire confidence—he's against open access for scholarship and he sponsored the Performance Rights Act even though small African-American radio stations opposed it because they feared not being able to pay performance royalties to musicians.

In general, Conyers's heart is in the right place.  Motown Records, which started out in Detroit—Conyers's electoral district—depended for its early success on many brilliant musicians who never reaped financial rewards commensurate with their creative contributions.  But unfortunately he seems inclined to solve problems with intellectual property laws by advocating more copyright regulation, which isn't necessarily what's needed these days.

Here's Motown's Marvin Gaye live in concert (with James Jamerson on bass):

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Archie Shepp Concert

Archie Shepp performing in France last month.  Perhaps he ought not to have sung (at 15:40)...

Jayne Cortez

A reading by Jayne Cortez:

With her son, Denardo Coleman:

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Toobin on Thomas

Selected quotes from this profile of Clarence and Virginia Thomas, by Jeffrey Toobin.
• "In several of the most important areas of constitutional law, Thomas has emerged as an intellectual leader of the Supreme Court."
• "[Associate Justice Antonin] Scalia told a reporter in 2004 ... '[Thomas] does not believe in stare decisis period.'" 
• "Thomas is humble before his own reading of the constitutional text—and dismissive of the attempts of others, including other Justices, to interpret it."
• "Thomas has a special hostility for government attempts to level the playing field in the political arena. For this Justice, the Constitution mandates the law of the jungle."

Pablo Casals

Steve Jobs: The Auteur Resigns

Interesting that, in this day and age, when the "tech" world is so often said to be be about collective creativity and distributed network ecologies, a company that's on the cutting edge of computer hardware is so utterly dominated by a single individual (for more info, see Gil Amelio).  Maybe Jaron Lanier has a point about all this.  So... whatever will Apple do without Steve Jobs at the helm?

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Pauline Kael Interview

Huddie Ledbetter

A 1936 newsreel with John Lomax:

In 1939...

Celia Cruz

The Barnes Foundation

Georges Seurat, "Les poseuses" (1888)

This is an interesting article on the travails of the Barnes Foundation, which will be moving to downtown Philadelphia next year from its original home in Merion, PA.  One of the museum's principal problems was that the value of its operating endowment plummeted, but Mr. Barnes decreed that no paintings could be sold (or purchased, for that matter).  Much as deaccessioning doesn't seem like a good idea in general, one can't help wonder whether selling just one or two of the collection's 181 Renoirs would have been enough to yield an ample endowment for the forseeable future.  According to this article, the foundation recently raised $50 million toward its endowment.  At the art market's peak in 1990, a small version of Renoir's "Bal du moulin de la Galette" sold for $78 million.

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, "Baigneuses dans la forêt" (1897)

Clark Terry

Clark Terry's autobiography will be published this fall (read an excerpt here).

"Mumbles," with Oscar Peterson:

"Straight No Chaser," with Bob Brookmeyer:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Eric Foner on Niall Ferguson's Civilization

In this review of Robin Blackburn's new book, The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights, historian Eric Foner wryly notes that Niall Ferguson's television series Civilization managed to get most of the way through the following episode on the United States' nineteenth-century economic success before mentioning slavery.  (The first mention of slavery is at 35:44):

Foner writes that:
Among the [book's] many virtues ... is its demonstration that slavery must be at the center of any account of Western ascendancy. Without the colonization of the New World, Blackburn notes at the outset, the West as we know it would not exist, and without slavery there could have been no colonization. Between 1500 and 1820, African slaves constituted about 80 percent of those who crossed the Atlantic from east to west. More than any other institution, the slave plantation underpinned the extraordinary expansion of Western power and the region’s prosperity in relation to the rest of the world.
 For what it's worth, a book based on Ferguson's T.V. series will be published this fall.

Mozart's Sister

I saw this film.  It's not very good.

Evelyn Glennie

Evelyn Glennie explains how to listen with your whole body...

Blue Note Records and Citigroup: Some Observations and Speculations

• A couple of years ago, a certain influential record executive who used to be CEO of Blue Note Records (an EMI subsidiary) referred to the label's corporate owners, a private equity firm called Terra Firma, as "f***ing idiots."

• On February 1st of this year, Terra Firma sold EMI—including Blue Note Records—to Citigroup.

• Up to its ears in subprime mortages, Citigroup was bailed out to the tune of billions of dollars by the U.S government (nice article from 2009 here).

• According to this article in the Economist, Citigroup is hoping to sell EMI as soon as it can:
Citi immediately cleansed EMI’s balance-sheet, reducing its debt from £3.4 billion to £1.2 billion. That makes it almost impossible for Citi to recoup its losses from its own entanglement with the label. EMI is worth around £1.5 billion, far less than the £2.2 billion in write-downs the bank has taken. But it does give the bank a better chance of finding a buyer for EMI.
• Earlier this month, Don Was was appointed Blue Note Records' new CEO.  Mazel tov!

• Don Was is the founder of Was (Not Was), which plays music like this:

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Recording Artists Claiming Copyright in Their Old Recordings

The NY Times's Larry Rohter has recently written a couple of articles (this and this) about a hitherto little-noticed provision of the 1976 copyright law that apparently allows copyright in master recordings made since 1978 to be transfered from record labels to individual artists after thirty-five years have elapsed.  Record labels are gearing up for a legal battle; Marc Myers hopes that a settlement will be reached, somehow.  But isn't this dispute really almost symbolic?  Back in 1960, when Ray Charles was one of the first big-name artists to own his own master recordings, sound-recording copyrights were a valuable commodity.  Those days are gone, now that the record industry's in a tailspin.  Musicians are going to have to stay on the road if they want to make money from performing.

Here's Ray Charles in 1963 (the saxophonist seated just to the right of the Raelettes is Tina Brooks):

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Jenny Holzer's Projections

See lots of photographs of other locations here.  And an article by Roberta Smith here.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Benny Carter and Nat King Cole

Jill Lepore on Reading and Writing

Patronage in Jazz Today: The New Microbenefactors

Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy (1714-90)
Patron of Franz Joseph Haydn

Patronage in the arts is nothing new, but not much mention has been made of the fact that it's playing a growing role in the world of avant garde and non-commercial jazz.  Just as it took James Laughlin, who was independently wealthy, to underwrite a lot of avant-garde literature during the mid-twentieth century via his New Directions Publishing Co. (read about Ezra Pound here), these days a lot of the jazz scene stays afloat with the support of external revenue sources.  Many jazz musicians take commercial and teaching gigs, and some solicit benefactors through organizations such as ArtistshareMaria Schneider has found several people who are happy to donate several thousand dollars to her recent recording projects (see the list of "participants" in her Sky Blue project here).  But the music also has some benefactors who, more or less, seem to support the jazz scene's commercial infrastructure as a personal hobby.

There's Nick Lloyd, owner of Firehouse 12 Records (and a club in New Haven, CT), which has issued a lot of avant-garde jazz by artists such as Anthony Braxton, Bill Dixon, Tyshawn Sorey, and Mary Halvorson.  Lloyd surely has some other source of income; it doesn't seem quite possible that his music business is independently lucrative enough to support his living quarters, which were featured in the NY Times "Home" section.

And there's Seth Rosner and Yulun Wang of Pi Recordings, whose roster includes Steve Coleman, Vijay Iyer, and Marc Ribot ; they're featured in this recent NY Times profile.  Wang evidently spent a couple of decades in investment banking before striking out in the record business, and Rosner's primary source of income is still apparently his job in real estate.

Whereas some sectors of the art world can stay afloat with the support of philanthropists who simply donate money and serve on non-profit boards, jazz's "microbenefactors" actually take an active hands-on role in the day-to-day running of the musical infrastructure they're supporting.  On the one hand, it's great that these folks are able and willing to commit to supporting innovative creative work, but on the other, it means that some of the most exciting music being created today has pretty precarious financial underpinnings, and who gets supported is very much subject to the whim and personal preferences of a very small limited number of people of independent means.  Economically, the music just doesn't have the breadth and depth of societal support that it had in the days of wealthy entrepreneurs like John Hammond.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

William Kapell

Maya Deren's Meshes of the Afternoon

Peter Singer

Interviewed by Richard Dawkins:

Oscar Peterson: A Zenph Re-Performance

Zenph studios, who brought us computerized player-piano replications of Art Tatum and Glenn Gould, is issuing a "re-performance" of some Oscar Peterson tracks from the 1970s and '80s.  A description of the recording session is here.  Eric Felten seems to miss the sounds of Peterson grunting and the audience reacting.  Regardless of what Walter Benjamin might have thought of all these mechanical reproductions, it seems as though the proximate cause is to wring every last drop of commercial potential from the dying record industry.  We've seen this time and again in recent years—gimmicky releases of music by dead performers: Enrico Caruso and Ray Charles with overdubbed new accompaniments, remastered Bob Dylan recordings that sounded fine to begin with, and countless opulent deluxe reissues of classic albums (such as this and this).  Next thing we know, maybe Zenph Studios will be  perfecting robots that can play all the instruments—and reissuing re-performances of everything in sight—vintage Toscanini NBC symphony sessions, classic rock and jazz tracks...   Machines that can play the saxophone:

....and the violin:

Here's Joshua Bell playing along to a re-performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff's accompaninent to a 1928 Fritz Kreisler's rendition of Grieg's third violin sonata:

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Artists Fees in the Classical Music World... No Biggie

I did one last concert with George [Maciunas], the big Fluxus concert, where I conducted at Carnegie Recital Hall, and he traded me my fee. I composed a piece for this program, because my whole problem with George was getting money out of him for performance of a work. I composed a piece that was called Composition 1965 dollars 50. The way this composition went was, I would stand behind the curtain somewhere on one side of the stage, and George would stand behind the curtains at his side of the stage. When my piece came up we would walk to the center of the stage, he would hand me an envelope with 50 dollars, and I would shake his hand.
La Monte Young
Some people seem to be making a big deal of the fact that certain big-name classical musicians get paid tens of thousands of dollars per concert (follow up blog post here).  But is it really much of a suprise that Philip Glass can earn $36,000 for a solo piano concert?  The music world's a superstar-driven industry, just like the world of professional sports, visual art, business CEOs, and so forth.  So what if Helen Grimaud gets E16,000 for a gig?  A decade ago, Paul McCartney earned over $60,000,000 per year from live performances alone (to find out who else was among the top 35 earners, check out p. 71 of Alan Krueger's "Rockonomics" article here).

Naturally, if you don't think anyone should be earning that kind of money in general, that's a defensible viewpoint too.  (Not everyone's down with Robert Nozick.)

Eric Rohmer's Triple Agent

Triple Agent, a 2004 film set in France during the late 1930s, written and directed by Rohmer:

Read more about it here.

Mahler's 5th Symphony

Gustav Mahler's fifth symphony was completed in 1902.  Here is the published score and here is the original autograph manuscript from the Morgan Library's collection (see some of their other scores here).  Valery Gergiev conducted the work at last year's Proms series:

Monday, August 15, 2011

Scenes of Postwar Urban America

New York City in 1959:

Los Angeles in 1964:

Chicago in the 1960s:

Mardi Gras in New Orleans, around 1960:

Lillian Gish

Gish at the age of twenty in D.W. Griffith's 1913 short film Death's Marathon:

...and aged ninety one, accepting an award from the American Film Institute in 1984:

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Stuff Smith

Hezekiah Leroy Gordon Smith burnin' it up with the house band at the Montmartre in Copenhagen in 1965:

Check out Anthony Barnett's website.

Yuja Wang's Dress

So Mark Swed of the L.A Times thinks that Yuja Wang's dresses are distractingly skimpy:
Her dress Tuesday was so short and tight that had there been any less of it, the Bowl might have been forced to restrict admission to any music lover under 18 not accompanied by an adult. Had her heels been any higher, walking, to say nothing of her sensitive pedaling, would have been unfeasible. The infernal helicopters that brazenly buzz the Bowl seemed, on this night, like long-necked paparazzi wanting a good look.
 ...whereas Anne Midgette of the Washington Post counters that "in the real world — the world outside classical music’s still-prurient bubble — this is not unusual attire for a young rising starlet in the public eye."
Well, one of the the underlying issues here is that too many classical artists these days sound pretty much alike (the remarkable career of Joyce Hatto would not otherwise have been possible).  Since their musical interpretations are all much of a muchness, performers need to find other ways to stand out from the crowd, and attention-getting clothes are an easy way to do so.  As Anthony Tommasini of the N.Y. Times wrote this week, there's a surfeit of virtuosi in the world of concert pianists.  An interesting juncture in the historical evolution toward uniformity among classical virtuosi came in the 1980s, when artists such as the Kronos Quartet and Nigel Kennedy came along; these folks were double nonconformists in that they both dressed differently and played differently from the majority of the classical community.  They remain anomalous.   Kennedy recently made some scathing comments about how today's musicians have "learned the same technical way [and] all play the same technical way" (original text here).  He's right: even most of today's contemporary music collectives—the many new music ensembles that have emerged in the wake of the Bang on a Can All-Stars—aren't especially imaginative interpreters, notwithstanding their often eyecatching concert attire.

On Stephen Sondheim and the New Porgy and Bess

So Stephen Sondheim's stirred up a tempest in a teapot over the upcoming new American Repertory Theater production of "The Gershwin's Porgy and Bess."  Sondheim claims that he's mainly upset at the attitude of the new producers and actors toward the original production (they have already responded), but he also calls them out simply for undertaking substantial changes to the original:
I can hear the outraged cries now about stifling creativity and discouraging directors who want to reinterpret plays and musicals in order to bring “fresh perspectives,” as they are wont to say, but there is a difference between reinterpretation and wholesale rewriting. Nor am I judging this production in advance, only the attitude of its creators toward the piece and the audience.
Hmm... so I suppose Sondheim wouldn't be terribly enthused if a spirited young theatrical whippersnapper had the bright idea to "wholesale rewrite," say, a classic Shakespeare play, like, say, Romeo and Juliet.  Of course, for modern day audiences the tale of the Montagues and Capulets could really do with a makeover.  How about ditching the whole old-school Verona setting and transporting the action to New York City?  And the whole interfamily rivalry could certainly be spiced up if we added an element of interethnic tension and some gang violence for good measure.  And naturally, all that nonstop talking just gets mighty tedious after a while.  Let's liven it up with some singing and dancing.  In fact, why not reimagine the whole shebang as a Broadway show?  Oh, wait a minute, I think that's already been done.  Back in 1957 in fact.  But who on earth would have had the audacity to write new lyrics superseding the Bard's lines?

I wonder what Sondheim makes of some of the many other sacrilegious bowdlerizations of Porgy and Bess?

Jascha Heifetz, "It Ain't Necessarily So":

Ray Charles and Cleo Laine, "Strawberry Woman":

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Joe Harriott and John Mayer

Joe Harriott plays "Mishra Blues":

Richard D. Wolff

A lecture by Richard D. Wolff, who makes Paul Krugman look like a munchkin:

Biréli Lagrène

Biréli Lagrène, at twelve years old in the late 1970s:

With Elvin Jones in 1999:

In Vienne in 2002:

And playing the violin in 2010:

Lawrence Lessig

Lessig's address at this year's National Conference on Media Reform:

Check out Remix.

Bootsy Collins

Bootsy Collins in the late 1980s:

...and in a 2010 interview:

Alvin Curran's Maritime Rites

Part of Curran's ten environmental concerts, in collaboration with musicians such as Wadada Leo Smith, Steve Lacy, George Lewis, Pauline Oliveros, and John Cage:

The album is for sale here.  There's also a related book.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Joseph Beuys

Hannah Arendt

Hannah Arendt, interviewed in 1973:

François Villon

Villon's works in French... and in English.

Adam Gopnik

Based on how this New Yorker "Talk of the Town" piece starts, Adam Gopnik evidently thinks that every child in New York City lives in Manhattan between 59th and 96th  Street (and has parents who can afford to shop at Bloomingdales).  Mr. Gopnik, please bear in mind that more than 80% of New York City residents don't even live in Manhattan...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

John Carter and Bobby Bradford

Check out the Mosaic Records boxed set, and Charles Sharp's recent article (not available free online) about them.  Here's a John Carter discography.

Seems Like Perhaps Not Such a Good Idea...

Deborah Voigt...

Still... guess we should reserve judgment 'til we've heard her try...

Isaac Casaubon

Nice review by Sam Stark in this week's Nation (not available free online) of Anthony Grafton and Joanna Weinberg's book about Isaac Casaubon (1559–1614) (available here).  

In his diary, Casaubon writes, "Today I paid the booksellers what I owed.  Except for Norton, my debt to whom is the largest. ... I take no thought for my wife, I take no thought for my children.  Today I decided that until my wife arrives I will not spend more than a gold sovereign on books—unless something truly rare shows up!"

Mark Pattison's 1875 book on Casaubon is available for free here.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Max Roach

...with Dizzy Gillespie:

...Amiri Baraka:

...and Cecil Taylor:

Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy

In an early Vitaphone short film:

...and on the Muppet Show in the 1970s:

Listen to Bergen's classic 1930s radio show here.

Robert Darnton and Siva Vaidhyanathan

The director of Harvard's library explains his idea for a digital public library:

Read a couple of his recent articles here and here.

Also listen to Siva Vaidhyanathan discuss the Googlization of Everything:

And check out Vaidhyanathan's previous book, here.

Bernard Bailyn

Here is an appreciation of Bailyn by Jack Rackove.

R. Buckminster Fuller

Buckminster Fuller talks about love:

Alfred W. Crosby

A short interview with Alfred W. Crosby:

Also check out his book The Measure of Reality, which is reviewed here.

How Wikipedia Pages Evolve...

Jon Udell shows the history of the "Heavy Metal Umlaut" wikipedia page.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Jane Jacobs

A short T.V. segment from 1969, shortly after Jacobs moved to Canada, and eight years after she published The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

A general lesson we can learn from Jacobs is that life sometimes should be complicated and messy, and ought not to be excessively quantified for the sake of some abstract notion of "efficiency."

Down South Camp Meeting

... performed by its composer, Fletcher Henderson, in 1934:

In his book on Henderson, Jeffrey Magee writes that "The version of 'Down South Camp Meeting' that Henderson's band recorded in 1934 presents the piece as it would be played by [Benny] Goodman for years.  ... The final strain deserves special mention for bringing together several Hendersonian features that cam to the fore in 1932–34: the looping harmonic progression, which [Gunther] Schuller and [Martin] Williams hear as a 'cousin' of 'King Porter Stomp,' the use of clarinets as a timbral alternative to saxophones, and the call-and response dialogue between reeds and brass."  This strain starts at 2:15 on the recording (notice how Henderson has the reed section drop out at 2:11, giving the players four seconds to put down their saxophones and pick up their clarinets).

Here's Benny Goodman playing it in late 1985, six months before he died:

Grandmaster Flash, DJ Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaata

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Susan Sontag's Plagiarism?: A Few Observations

A few years before Susan Sontag died in 2004, the story broke that some passages in her novel In America were plagiarized from other books.  Well, I just happened to notice that Sontag's well-known essay on Jean-Luc Godard, first published in the Partisan Review in 1968 and subsequently reprinted in Styles of Radical Will, contains a few sentences that seem rather similar to passages in Richard Roud's book on Godard, which was released the previous year.  Sontag mentions Roud's book in a footnote (p. 151 of the paperback edition) and clearly her piece draws heavily on Roud for factual information, repeating some of the same quotes from the filmmaker.  But there's also this:

Roud, p. 41 (2010 BFI Silver reprint edition):
the reproach most often slung at Godard is that he can't tell a story; that there is never enough plot and that what there is, is dramatically incoherent at best, arbitrary at worst.
Sontag, p. 156:
 the standard criticism leveled against Godard is that his plots are undramatic, arbitrary, often simply incoherent...
and this...

Roud, p. 41:
Godard does not 'tell stories.'  Even his detractors, however, have to admit that he could if he wanted to, since most of them except A bout de souffle from their strictures.  What they fail to recognize is that he doesn't want to.
Sontag, p. 156:
What his detractors don't grasp, of course, is that Godard doesn't want to do what they reproach him for not doing.
and this, too...

Roud, p. 59:
it is interesting that when one looks at A bout de souffle now, the famous jump-cuts seem to have disappeared; one hardly notices them, so permanent and ubiquitous a feature of contemporary film style have they become.  The same holds true, by the way, for the hand-held camera shots which caused such a furore at the time: they, too, are almost invisible.
Sontag, p. 157:
(If one sees Breathless today, however, the once obtrusive cutting and the oddities of the hand-held camera are almost invisible, so widely imitated are these techniques now.) 
Hmmm....  I guess maybe this sort of thing doesn't happen only in In America....

...also, here's an interview with Jean-Paul Belmondo (the star of Breathless) from last spring.  The interview starts at 2:40 (Belmondo had a stroke a few years ago that slightly affected his speech):